Super Bowl Sunday is upon us. So is the slew of parties with obscene amounts of food and chatter that drown out the game and commercials.

Toyota has an emotional ad teed up that you shouldn't miss, though--because of its critical, empowering message.

The commercial's star is Antoinette "Toni" Harris, a woman who received a football scholarship offer from Bethany College earlier this month. Even rarer, she's a position player (a safety). Other women who have received football scholarships have done so as kickers.

The ad goes right after a human tendency that limits us from ever achieving our fullest potential:

"I've never been a big fan of assumptions," says Harris.

You shouldn't be one, either.

Assumptions shape and mold our lives more than you realize. They can derail dreams, stop progress in its tracks, self-impose limits, and create self-fulfilling prophecies. They can derail your entire career. They can crush your entrepreneurial dreams.

You can--and must--push past your own self-limiting thoughts. While researching for my book The Full Potential, I learned these seven powerful ways to assail your assumptions:

1. Remember all the stakeholders.

Assumptions are often based on things that may or may not be true, especially limiting assumptions. Think of all the stakeholders--people you interact with regularly at work or potential customers that would be most affected by your assumptions. Then, go test your assumptions on them to see if they agree.

I used to assume nobody would value what I had to say if I wrote a book. So, I wrote some blogs first and shared them with an important stakeholder--my potential target audience. They started asking for more. I've since written three award-winning books, and disproved an incredibly limiting assumption I'd held.

2. Force fresh perspective.

It's easy to fall into patterns of operating within the same set of assumptions repeatedly. You continually see things from the same perspective.

Break the stasis and bring in fresh viewpoints. Bring outsiders into a brainstorming session. Conduct a session with your team where you view the world through a competitor's eyes.

In my corporate career, I consistently found that competitive modeling sessions, for example, produced some of the most important insights for success. Now, touching base with mentors for fresh perspective helps me stay on track and make adjustments to my plans when necessary.

3. Watch your language.

Words of absolutism tend to sneak into our assumptions. Stop and pause when you use words like "never," "always," "all of," and "none of." Take time to qualify your qualifiers.

Each year, when I sit down to do my annual business planning, I keep those limiting words on a piece of paper in front of me. I don't want my thinking to drift into these sentiments.

4. Think like a science teacher.

Assumptions are scientific hypotheses: either accepted or refuted with proof. Ask yourself your assumption has actually been proven. If so, does it still hold true?

For example, are you certain you can't raise your prices because people won't pay extra? Have you run a higher-priced test to prove or disprove that? If not, do it. You might be surprised.

5. Ask why.

Ask yourself, "Why do I believe this assumption is true?" The rationale or root cause is often weaker than you expect. My hesitation toward writing a book, for example, was really because I was afraid to fail at it. I was undervaluing the benefit of what I wrote about, too.

One of my coaching clients once told me she stayed in her job far too long because she just assumed she couldn't find another one. I pushed on that, and she admitted the real issue: She hated the thought of change. That type of realization can lead to progress.

6. Don't let the data numb you.

In corporate, I'd tell my team, "Use data to go from 'I think' to 'I know'. But don't let 'I know' get in the way of 'I think.'" Data should be used to inform our decisions--just not at the expense of gut instinct or in lieu of challenging the assumptions behind the data.

Keep a balance. A 40/60 split works for me: 40 percent data (for the highest stakes part of a decision), 60 percent gut.

7. Double-click on pain-point assumptions.

Identify the one or two most critical assumptions you're making. Spend extra time challenging them.

I recently worked with a client who assumed for years that they couldn't retain Millennials. They'd altered their retention strategies to attract "more experienced hires." Meanwhile, their competitors were successfully hiring and retaining Millennials--and as that workforce got older, phrases like "out of touch with today's market" appeared in their customer surveys. Definitely a poisonous assumption.

That's why Toni Harris is right: You shouldn't be a fan of assumptions, either. Your fullest potential awaits.

Published on: Jan 30, 2019
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